India’s Extensive Railways Often Conduit for Child Trafficking

Children working and travelling on India’s vast rail network need to be educated about the perils of trafficking. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS

Children working and travelling on India’s vast rail network need to be educated about the perils of trafficking. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS

By Umar Manzoor Shah
Karnataka, India, Dec 2 2022 – Deeepti Rani (13) lives with her mother in a dilapidated dwelling near a railway track in India’s southern state of Karnataka. The mother-daughter duo sells paperbacks on trains for a living.

Four months ago, a man in his mid-fifties visited them. Masquerading as a businessman hailing from India’s capital, Delhi, he first expressed dismay over the family’s dismal conditions. Then he offered help.  The man asked Deepti if she wanted to accompany him to Delhi, where he could find her a decent job as a sales clerk or a housemaid. He also told Deepti’s mother that if allowed to go to Delhi, her daughter would be able to earn no less than 15 to 20 000 rupees a month—about 200-300 USD.

The money, Deepti’s mother, reasoned, would be enough to lift the family out of abject poverty and deprivation, enough to plan Deepti’s wedding and bid farewell to the arduous job of selling paperbacks on moving trains.

On the scheduled day, when the man was about to take Deepti, a labourer whose family lives adjacent to her hut informed the police about the possible case of trafficking. The labourer had become suspicious after observing the agent’s frequent visits to the mother-daughter.

When police reached the spot and detained the agent, it was discovered during questioning that he was planning to sell the little girl to a brothel in Delhi.

Ramesh, a 14-year-old boy from the same state, shared a similar predicament. He narrates how a man, probably in his late 40s, offered his parents a handsome sum of money so that he could be adopted and taken good care of.

“My parents, who work as labourers, readily agreed. I was set to go with a man – who we had met a few days before. I was told that I would get a good education, a good life, and loving parents. I wondered how an unknown man could offer us such things at such a fast pace. I told my parents that I smelled something suspicious,” Ramesh recalls.

The next day, as the man arrived to take the boy, the locals, including Ramesh’s parents, questioned him.  “We called the government helpline number, and the team arrived after some 20 minutes. When interrogated, the man spilt the beans. He was about to sell the boy in some Middle East country and get a huge sum for himself. We could have lost our child forever,” says Ramesh’s father.

According to government data, every eight minutes, a child vanishes in India.

As many as 11,000 of the 44,000 youngsters reported missing each year are still missing. In many cases, children and their low-income parents who are promised “greener pastures” in urban houses of the wealthy wind up being grossly underpaid, mistreated, and occasionally sexually molested.

Human trafficking is forbidden in India as a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution, but it is nonetheless an organised crime. Human trafficking is a covert crime that is typically not reported to the police, and experts believe that it requires significant policy changes to stop it and help victims recover.

Activists and members associated with the Belgaum Diocesan Social Service Society (BDSSS) run various child protection programs for children from poor backgrounds.

One such program is ‘Childline 1098 Collab’. A dedicated helpline has been established to help out children in need. The helpline number is widely circulated across the city so that if anyone comes across any violation of child rights, they can dial the number.

A rescue team will be dispatched and provide immediate help to the victim.

Fr Peter Asheervadappa, the director of a social service called Belgaum Diocesan Social Service Society, provides emergency relief and rescue services for children at high risk. Children and other citizens can dial toll-free 1098, and the team reaches within 60 minutes to rescue the children.

“The cases handled are of varied nature: Sexual abuse, physical abuse, child labour, marriages, and any other abuse that affects children’s well-being,” Asheervadappa told IPS.

He adds that India’s railway network, one of the largest in the world, is made up of 7,321 stations, 123,542 kilometres of track, and 9,143 daily trains, carrying over 23 million people.

“The vast network, crucial to the country’s survival, is frequently used for trafficking children. For this reason, our organisation, and others like it, have argued that key train stops require specialised programs and attention. Such transit hubs serve as important outreach locations for finding and helping children when they are most in need,” he said.

But not only have the trafficking cases emerged at these locations. There are child marriages, too, that concern the activists.

Rashmi, a 13-year-old, was nearly sold to a middle-aged businessman from a nearby city.  In return, the wealthy man would take good care of the poverty-stricken family and attend to their daily needs. All they had to do was to give them their daughter.  They agreed. “Everyone wants a good life, but that doesn’t mean you barter your child’s life for that greed. It is immoral, unethical, and illegal,” says an activist Abhinav Prasad* associated with the Child Protection Program.

He says many people in India are on the lookout for child brides. They often galvanise their efforts in slums and areas where poor people live. It is there that they find people in need, and they take advantage of their desperation for money.

While Rashmi was about to tie the nuptial knot with a man almost four times her age (50), some neighbours called the child rescue group and informed them. The team rushed to the spot and called in the police to stop the ceremony from happening.

“Child marriages are rampant in India, but we must do our bit. It is by virtue of these small efforts that we can stop the menace from spreading its dreadful wings and consuming our children,” said Prasad.

*Not his real name.
IPS UN Bureau Report

 


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Working Together for an Inclusive World

ECW Director Yasmine Sherif Statement on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities

By Yasmine Sherif
NEW YORK, Dec 2 2022 (IPS-Partners)

ECW works together with governments, UN agencies, civil society and the private sector for an inclusive world where all children with disabilities are able to go to school in safe and accessible learning environments. We work together for an inclusive world where the complex challenges of today offer up the transformative solutions of tomorrow.

Yasmine Sherif

As we mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we must not forget the power of education in overcoming challenges.

Worldwide, there are nearly 240 million children with disabilities. These children are 49% more likely to have never attended school. In armed conflicts, forced displacement and climate-induced disasters, it’s even worse. Living with a disability increases a child’s risk of discrimination, abuse and other denials of a child’s human rights.

In support of the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy and our global efforts to act now for children with disabilities, Education Cannot Wait works to ensure that at least 10% of our beneficiaries are children with disabilities across our portfolio.

In places like South Sudan, Syria, Ecuador, Ethiopia and beyond, we are working with our strategic partners to improve inclusion, provide specialized services for children with disabilities, and leave no child behind.

The ECW Acceleration Facility is supporting important initiatives that improve access to learning, create inclusive learning policies, and enhance learning outcomes for children with disabilities.

Education Cannot Wait’s High-Level Financing Conference will take place in Geneva on 16-17 February 2023. World leaders will have a chance to make firm commitments to reach the world’s most vulnerable children – especially those left furthest, including children with disabilities – with the safety, power and hope that only an education can provide.

For far too long, our global humanitarian response mechanisms have failed to meet the necessary requirements that guarantee access to education and a meaningful learning experience for girls and boys with disabilities. We must address these inequities today. We must work together today for a more inclusive world for the generations of tomorrow.

IPS UN Bureau

 


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Excerpt:

ECW Director Yasmine Sherif Statement on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Global Risks in 2022: The Year of Colliding Consequences

By Jens Orback
STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Dec 2 2022 – As 2022 draws to a close, we are confronted with an unprecedented collision of global risks, interacting and reinforcing each other in dangerous new ways.

The impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are still rippling outwards, colliding and combining like waves on a sea. The heightened threat of nuclear conflict, the global energy crisis, the rising cost of food, deepening poverty and inequality: these consequences are interacting with the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of climate change.

This confluence of global risks has led to unwelcome new terms entering the dictionary, such as ‘polycrisis’ and ‘multicrisis.’

In the face of such complex challenges, it’s easy to feel helpless and paralyzed. And yet, if this year has shown us anything, it’s that we need an urgent upgrade of our systems of cooperation to tackle them.

It starts with making sure we have the right knowledge. Climate scientist Johan Rockström, a board member of our foundation, has written powerfully on the need for an international consortium of scientists to provide shared insights on the emerging interactions between risks.

At the Global Challenges Foundation, we’ve just released our annual review of global catastrophic risks, risks that threaten the survival of more than ten per cent of humanity. This year’s report shows how, more than ever, our systems and structures for preventing and managing these risks are both outdated and inadequate.

Whether it’s climate change, environmental breakdown, nuclear conflict, pandemics or artificial intelligence, we have a systemic problem with processing and acting on the complex challenges that lie in the intersections.

Of course, there is no one magic solution, given the multilateral system that we inhabit. However, there are many existing proposals to improve the mechanics of global governance that could be immediately fast tracked.

For example, there are several important proposals in the United Nations Secretary-General’s 2021 report, Our Common Agenda. These include the idea for an Emergency Platform that would be triggered by a major crisis such as the use of a nuclear weapon and coordinate the global response.

The report also proposes reviving the UN’s Trusteeship Council, inactive for many years, as a multi-stakeholder body to tackle emerging challenges and to act to preserve the global commons on behalf of future generations.

The failure of the COP27 climate talks in Egypt to agree strong measures to curb fossil fuel production has demonstrated how intergovernmental negotiations are not producing rapid enough action on climate change.

On top of this, the global energy crisis has led to some countries slowing or shelving their green agendas, in a year of extreme temperatures and climate-related crises.

We urgently need to find alternative ways of collaborating to prevent catastrophic climate change. One key proposal is a carbon tax – administered at both global and national levels – with the proceeds going to the communities who are most affected.

The International Monetary Fund concluded that, of all the various recognised strategies to reduce fossil fuel emissions, implementing a carbon tax would be the most powerful and efficient.

Of course, this may not be the easiest ‘sell’ politically during a cost-of-living crisis but evidence from countries like Canada shows that it can be done gradually and sensitively.

The spread of COVID-19 around the world since 2020 has highlighted the linkages between environmental destruction and pandemics. COVID-19 is unlikely to be the last pandemic that humanity faces.

As renowned epidemiologist and public health expert Professor David Heymann writes in his pandemics chapter in our report, as well as tackling the root causes of new pathogens coming into contact with humans, we need to upgrade the international frameworks that govern how countries report on new disease outbreaks.

This means enacting a stronger enforcement mechanism to the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations, and a Pandemic Treaty.

When it comes to nuclear risk, looming ever larger over Ukraine, it’s now more likely than ever that nuclear weapons will be used in either military actions, miscalculation or by accident than at any time since the beginning of the nuclear age.

The international community must treat all threats to use nuclear weapons very seriously. Even ‘small’ or ‘tactical’ weapons can cause terrible damage and their use would undermine the nuclear taboo in place since their use at the end of the Second World War.

Nuclear expert, and contributor to our report, Kennette Benedict says there is still much more we can do to prevent a nuclear disaster. IAEA Director General Raffael Grossi and his colleagues are doing heroic work to prevent nuclear plant disasters in Ukraine.

The international community must continue to support the agency and provide more funding for IAEA’s work. Explicit protection of nuclear plants in violent conflicts and war should be codified in international law.

Only with a clear understanding of each of the greatest risks facing humanity can we move forward to rethink how we could better manage them. And only with new kinds of global cooperation can we deal with today’s complex web of interlocking and reinforcing global risks to ensure a habitable, safe and peaceful future.

As we say goodbye to this year of global risks, this should be top of our ‘to do’ list for 2023.

Jens Orback is Executive Director of The Global Challenges Foundation

IPS UN Bureau

 


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Egypt Racing to Supply Wind, Solar Energy to Greece, EU via Submarine Cables

Wind and solar energy are behind a major project to transport electricity from Egypt to Greece. Credit: Hisham Allam/IPS

Wind and solar energy are behind a major project to transport electricity from Egypt to Greece. Credit: Hisham Allam/IPS

By Hisham Allam
Cairo, Dec 1 2022 – As Europe braces for an unusual winter due to a global energy crisis, Greece is embarking on one of Europe’s most ambitious energy projects by connecting its electricity grid to Egypt’s.

An underwater cable will transport 3,000 MW of electricity to power up to 450,000 households from northern Egypt to Attica in Greece.

In October, the two countries agreed to construct the Mediterranean’s first undersea cable to transport electricity generated by solar and wind energy in North Africa to Europe. The project’s total length is 1373 kilometres.

The Copelouzos Group is in charge of the project, and its executives met with Egyptian leaders in October to speed up the process.

The agreement comes at a time when Greece, Cyprus, and Israel want to invest $900 million in constructing a line connecting Europe and Asia that will be the longest and deepest energy cable across the Mediterranean.

At a ceremony in Athens, Greek Energy Minister Costas Skrickas and his Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Shaker signed a memorandum of understanding on the project.

“This connection benefits Greece, Egypt, and the European Union,” Skrickas said.

He explained that the project would help to build an energy hub in the eastern Mediterranean and improve the region’s energy security.

Besides boosting the share of renewable energy sources in the energy mix and lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector, the project is anticipated to enable the export of renewable energy from Egypt to Greece in periods of high renewable energy generation and vice versa.

According to Dr Ayman Hamza, spokesman for the Ministry of Electricity, the Egyptian-Greek electrical connectivity project has significant technical, economic, environmental, and social benefits. The project aims to establish a robust interconnection network in the Eastern Mediterranean to increase the security and dependability of energy supplies, as well as to assist in the event of transmission network breakdowns, interruptions, and emergencies, and to raise the level of security of electrical supplies.

The project, scheduled to start in 2028, is a significant component of the two nations’ ongoing strategic relations and cooperation. It will speed up the development of the energy corridor by increasing the supply of electricity to Egypt and Greece while balancing energy demand, encouraging responses to the challenges of climate change, and reducing emissions, all of which will contribute to the corridor’s continued growth, Hamza told IPS.

“We have 16 memorandums of understanding related to green hydrogen,” he explained, adding that “there is a great demand from investors to invest in renewable energy, whether the sun or wind.”

“On the margins of the COP27 climate conference, it is expected that extremely major agreements on the level of green hydrogen and others, with great experience, will be signed,” Hamza elaborated.

The possibility of Egypt increasing its reliance on renewable energy, he continued, is made possible by a large number of investors pouring money into solar and wind energy. He stated that Egypt would become a regional renewable energy hub.

Egypt has electrical interconnection lines with Libya and Sudan, and we are collaborating with other African organizations to take significant steps to connect Africa and Europe through electrical interconnection. Because Africa is a major energy source, this will benefit both continents, the spokesperson continued.

According to Dr Farouk Al-Hakim, Secretary-General of the Egyptian Society of Electrical Engineers, Egypt’s export of electricity indicates a surplus, which generates a significant economic return, strengthens Egypt’s political position, and transforms Egypt into a regional energy hub, in addition to the numerous job opportunities created in operation and maintenance.

Al-Hakim told IPS that Egypt has a significant surplus due to the installation of three enormous power stations in the past several years in the administrative capital, Burullus, and Beni Suef, as well as solar plants, including the Benban facility, which is the biggest in Africa and the Middle East.

The electrical connection currently offers many benefits, he continued, particularly given that Europe, like most other nations worldwide, is experiencing an energy crisis due to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Therefore, it is a good idea to start with two nations that have shared a history with Egypt, such as Greece and Cyprus, he added.

IPS UN Bureau Report

 


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Illegal Immigration: A Mounting Global Crisis

Public health leaders, human rights advocates, and former CDC officials and academics have repeatedly called on the CDC to end the use of Title 42 in favor of evidence-based approaches that can protect migrants and the American public from COVID-19 transmission

Credit: UNOHCR.

By Joseph Chamie
PORTLAND, USA, Dec 1 2022 – Illegal immigration has evolved into a mounting crisis for a growing number of countries worldwide and governments appear to be at a loss on how to deal with the crisis.

Migrant destination countries are facing record high numbers of unlawful border crossings and unauthorized arrivals at their shores, thousands of visa overstayers, and millions of men, women and children residing unlawfully within their countries.

In many of those countries illegal migration is viewed as a threat to national sovereignty. It is seen as undermining cultural integrity. Illegal migration is also creating financial drains on public funds.

Some officials as well as much of the public in those countries have described the continuing illegal immigration to their borders and shores as an “invasion”, a “battle situation” and a “security threat”. And some have called on their governments to “send’em straight back”.

In addition, illegal immigration is also undermining the rule of law, threatening regional cooperation, challenging law enforcement agencies, eroding public support for legal migration, altering political equilibrium and adding to nativism and xenophobia. In addition, the public’s concerns about immigration are reflected in the growing influence of far-right political parties in such countries as Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Sweden and the United States.

Multinational migrant-smuggling networks are also contributing to the mounting illegal immigration crisis as well as generating substantial profits for criminal organizations. Those networks exploit migrants seeking to leave their countries, offering various services, including transportation, accommodations and critical information.

Government programs and plans to counter migrant smuggling networks have achieved limited success. Also, international attempts to address illegal immigration, such as the Global Compact on International Migration of 2018, have not diminished illegal immigration nor the activities of smuggling networks.

A major factor behind the rise of illegal immigration is the large and growing supply of men, women and children in sending countries who want to migrate to another country and by any means possible, including illegal immigration. The number of people in the world wanting to migrate to another country is estimated at nearly 1.2 billion.

The billion plus people wanting to migrate represents about 15 percent of the world’s population. That number of people wanting to migrate is also more than four times the size of the estimated total number immigrants worldwide in 2020, which was 281 million (Figure 1).

 

Source: United Nations and Gallup Polls.

 

The country with the largest number of immigrants is the United States with almost 48 million foreign-born residents in 2022, or approximately 14 percent of its population. About one quarter of those immigrants, or approximately 11.4 million, are estimated to be illegal immigrants.

While an estimate of the total number of immigrants in the world is readily available, the number of illegal immigrants is a very different matter with few reliable estimates available on a global scale.

Nearly two decades ago it was estimated that perhaps 20 percent of the immigrants were unauthorized migrants. Applying that proportion to the current total number of immigrants of 281 million yields an estimate of about 56 million unauthorized migrants. If the U.S. proportion of illegal immigrants is applied to the total global immigrant population, the resulting estimated number of illegal immigrants in the world is approximately 70 million.

The public’s concerns about immigration are reflected in the growing influence of far-right political parties in such countries as Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Sweden and the United States

The widely recognized human rights regarding international migration are relatively straightforward. Articles 13 and 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights respectively state, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”, and “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.

Importantly, however, everyone does not have the right to enter nor remain in another country. The unlawful entry into a country and overstaying a temporary visit are clearly not recognized human rights. Moreover, to be granted asylum, an individual needs to meet the internationally recognized definition of a refugee.

According to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, a refugee is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country due to past persecution or a well-founded fear of being persecuted in the future “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Difficult living conditions, such as unemployment, poverty, inadequate housing, lack of health care, marital discord and political unrest, do not qualify an individual for the internationally recognized refugee status nor to a legitimate claim for asylum.

Nevertheless, in the absence of a right to migrate to another country, people wanting to do so are increasingly turning to illegal immigration. And upon arriving at the destination country, many are claiming the right to seek asylum.

Once inside the country, the legal determination of an asylum claim often takes years, permitting claimants time to establish households, find employment and integrate into accepting communities, such as sanctuary cities. Also, many of the unauthorized migrants believe, based on the experiences of millions before them, that government authorities will not repatriate them even if their asylum claim is rejected, which is typically the case.

The mounting illegal immigration crisis is complicated by 103 million people who are estimated to have been forcibly displaced worldwide by mid-2022. That number is a record high for forcibly displaced people and is expected to grow in the coming years.

Approximately 50 percent of those forcibly displaced were displaced internally and 5 percent were people in need of international protection. In addition, the number of refugees has reached a record high of nearly 33 million worldwide and the estimate for asylum seekers is close to 5 million (Figure 2).

 

Source: UNHCR.

 

The worldwide numbers of forcibly displaced people, internally displaced people and refugees have increased substantially since the start of the 21st century. For example, over the past two decades the numbers of displaced people increased from 38 million to nearly 86 million (Figure 3).

 

Source: UNHCR.

 

Many of those people have been displaced by weather-related events. UNHCR estimates that an annual average of nearly 22 million people have been forcibly displaced by events related to weather, such as wildfires, floods, and extreme heat temperatures.

Moreover, the numbers of displaced people are expected to increase substantially over the coming decades. Some estimate that by midcentury more than one billion people, largely from less developed countries, could be displaced due to climate and environmental changes and civil unrest.

By third decade of the 21st century, the following major trends contributing to the mounting global illegal migration crisis have become abundantly clear:

  1. Powerful forces worldwide are fueling illegal immigration, including demographics, poverty, smuggling networks, civil unrest and increasingly climate change, which is creating “climate refugees”.
  2. Those potent forces are resulting in large and increasing numbers of men, women and even unaccompanied children arriving at borders and landing on shores of destination countries without authorization.
  3. Unauthorized migrants, as well as visa overstayers, seek to settle in those destination countries by any means available and are not prepared to return to their countries of origin.
  4. Most of the large and growing numbers of unauthorized migrants now residing unlawfully within countries are not likely to be repatriated.

 

Finally, it is also clear that neither governments nor international agencies have yet been able to come up with effective policies and programs to address the mounting global illegal immigration crisis.

Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Births, Deaths, Migrations and Other Important Population Matters.”

 

COP 27: A Global COP-Out

On the final day of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, young Ghanaian activist Nakeeyat Dramani Sam spoke about the terrible impact of climate change on her country, while holding up a sign that said, “Payment Overdue.” Credit: Kiara Worth

By Robert Sandford
HAMILTON, Canada, Dec 1 2022 – Last year’s climate COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, was billed as the most important conference in the history of humanity. But it failed to deliver. If anything, that failure added urgency for global climate action at COP 27 in Egypt last month.

Now that it this year’s COP is over, it is useful to reflect on a few excerpts from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s opening day remarks:

• “These climate conferences remind us that the answer is in our hands and the clock is ticking.”
• “We are in the fight of our lives, and we are losing.”
• “Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing, global temperatures keep rising…and our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible.”
• “We are getting dangerously close to the point of no return. And to avoid that dire fate all countries must accelerate their transition now, in this decade.”
• “Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish.”
• “It is either a climate solidarity pact, or it is a collective suicide pact.”

Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

Sadly, COP27’s outcomes make very clear that the world signed on to the one the global fossil fuel sector wanted: the suicide pact.

COP 27 did not deliver. In fact, it has been labelled by many as the worst COP ever.

What happened in Egypt puts a whole new spin on the term COP-out. But how could it have been otherwise?

COP 27 was held in a country aligned with surrounding petrostates ruled by a ruthless dictatorship and was sponsored by one of the world’s largest plastic polluters: Coca-Cola.

It did not seem to register with organizers that the company’s relentless bottled water production is widely held in the global water science and policy community as a triumph of marketing over common sense.

Did the organizers not see that Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of COP 27 was an open invitation to blatant global greenwashing?

The obvious should not be missed here: Capitalism is not out of control, capitalism is in control – and COP 27 offers clear proof of that truth.

As society’s reliance on petroleum grew and our energy demands expanded, the global fossil fuel cartel quietly evolved into a superpower unto itself. There were more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists at COP 27. What, one might reasonably ask, could possibly go wrong? Lots, evidently.

The oil and gas lobby completely corrupted the COP process. The proceedings and outcomes of COP 27 make it clear that the fossil fuel sector now owns the COP agenda. The sole aim of their presence there was to prevent, not promote, progress on dealing with the global climate threat. And they succeeded.

None of the agreements negotiated in Egypt are binding. Like the national emissions reductions target put forward by UN Member States under the Paris Climate Accord, the commitments made at COP 27 are all merely aspirational.

There is no penalty for failing to achieve them. There have been 27 COPs since 1995 and still no formal binding agreement on cutting fossil fuel burning.

Except for a small blip during the pandemic, fossil fuel burning globally continues to rise, not fall.

As one participant pointed out, the aspirational scheme agreed upon in Sharm el Sheikh is a down payment on disaster. No one expects anyone to actually compensate developing countries that contribute little to the climate threat for the catastrophic impacts climate breakdown is now having on them.

With COP 28 scheduled to be held next year in the United Arab Emirates – one of the most notorious petrostates of them all – the only thing COP 27 accomplished was to expose what the COP summit process has become – a pointless travelling circus set up once a year out of which little but platitudes emerge.

The entire COP process is no longer fit for purpose. It is a bloated, corrupted process too moribund to come up with any measures effective enough, and binding enough, to bring about the changes we need to make to avoid climate catastrophe.

Voices calling for change get louder and louder. The COP process must be replaced with something more efficient that does its work largely hidden from the glare of the media.

It can no longer be allowed to be contaminated by corporate sponsorship. The process can no longer be allowed to be owned and corrupted by the global fossil fuel cartel and oil and gas sector lobbyists.

One suggested way of doing this is to establish an IPCC-like structure of smaller bodies, each addressing key issues, notably energy transition, restorative agriculture, transportation and issues related to damage and loss.

Each such body would be made up of representatives of majority-world countries empowered to negotiate legally binding agreements that are workable and achievable, whether it be halting and reversing deforestation, cutting carbon dioxide and methane emissions, drawing down coal use and addressing other threats to our future such as ocean acidification and deoxygenation.

These agreements can then be signed off by world leaders without the need for the hype, grandstanding and false hope now associated with COP process pronouncements.

We are witnessing a great bonfire of our heritage. Things are being lost that have not yet been found. We need to find them before they, and we, are gone.

Robert Sandford holds the Global Water Futures Chair in Water and Climate Security at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, based at McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada

IPS UN Bureau

 


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This Planet Is Drying Up. And these Are the Consequences

By 2050, droughts may affect an estimated three-quarters of the world’s population. Credit: Miriet Abrego / IPS

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Dec 1 2022 – Drought is one of the ‘most destructive’ natural disasters in terms of the loss of life, arising from impacts, such as wide-scale crop failure, wildfires and water stress.

In other words, droughts are one of the “most feared natural phenomena in the world;” they devastate farmland, destroy livelihoods and cause untold suffering, as reported by the world’s top specialised bodies: the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

They occur when an area experiences a shortage of water supply due to a lack of rainfall or lack of surface or groundwater. And they can last for weeks, months or years.

Exacerbated by land degradation and climate change, droughts are increasing in frequency and severity, up 29% since 2000, with 55 million people affected every year.

The impacts of climate change are often felt through water – more intense and frequent droughts, more extreme flooding, more erratic seasonal rainfall and accelerated melting of glaciers – with cascading effects on economies, ecosystems and all aspects of our daily lives,

Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General

By 2050, droughts may affect an estimated three-quarters of the world’s population. This means that agricultural production will have to increase by 60% to meet the global food demand in 2050.

This means that about 71% of the world’s irrigated area and 47% of major cities are to experience at least periodic water shortages. If this trend continues, the scarcity and associated water quality problems will lead to competition and conflicts among water users, adds the Convention.

 

Most of the world already impacted

The alert is loud and strong and it comes from a number of the world’s most knowledgeable organisations.

To begin with, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on 29 November 2022 reported that most of the globe was drier than normal in 2021, with “cascading effects on economies, ecosystems and our daily lives.”

 

Water

Between 2001 and 2018, UN-Water reported that a staggering 74% of all-natural disasters were water-related.

Currently, over 3.6 billion people have inadequate access to water at least one month per year and this is expected to increase to more than five billion by 2050.

Moreover, areas that were unusually dry included South America’s Rio de la Plata area, where a persistent drought has affected the region since 2019, according to WMO’s The State of Global Water Resources report.

 

Drying rivers, lakes

In Africa, major rivers such as the Niger, Volta, Nile and Congo had below-average water flow in 2021.

The same trend was observed in rivers in parts of Russia, West Siberia and in Central Asia.

On the other hand, there were above-normal river volumes in some North American basins, the North Amazon and South Africa, as well as in China’s Amur river basin, and northern India.

 

Cascading effects

The impacts of climate change are often felt through water – more intense and frequent droughts, more extreme flooding, more erratic seasonal rainfall and accelerated melting of glaciers – with cascading effects on economies, ecosystems and all aspects of our daily lives, said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

“Changes to Cryosphere water resources affect food security, human health, ecosystem integrity and maintenance, and lead to significant impacts on economic and social development”, said WMO, sometimes causing river flooding and flash floods due to glacier lake outbursts.

The cryosphere – namely glaciers, snow cover, ice caps and, where present, permafrost – is the world’s biggest natural reservoir of freshwater.

 

 

Soils

Being water –or rather the lack of it– a major cause-effect of the fast-growing deterioration of natural resources, and the consequent damage to the world’s food production, the theme of World Soil Day 2022, marked 5 December, is “Soils: Where food begins.”

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):

  • 95% of our food comes from soils.
  • 18 naturally occurring chemical elements are essential to plants. Soils supply 15.
  • Agricultural production will have to increase by 60% to meet the global food demand in 2050.
  • 33% of soils are degraded.

 

Dangerously poisoned

In addition to the life of humans, animals, and plants, one of the sectors that most depend on water–crops is now highly endangered.

Indeed, since the 1950s, reminds the United Nations, innovations like synthetic fertilisers, chemical pesticides and high-yield cereals have helped humanity dramatically increase the amount of food it grows.

“But those inventions would be moot without agriculture’s most precious commodity: fresh water. And it, say researchers, is now under threat.”

Moreover, pollution, climate change and over-abstraction are beginning to compromise the lakes, rivers, and aquifers that underpin farming globally, reports the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

 

Salinised and plastified

Such is the case, among many others, of the growing salinisation and ‘plastification’ of the world’s soils.

In fact, currently, it is estimated that there are more than 833 million hectares of salt-affected soils around the globe (8.7% of the planet). This implies the loss of soil’s capacity to grow food and also increasing impacts on water and the ability to filter pollution.

Soil salinisation and sodification are major soil degradation processes threatening ecosystems and are recognised as being among the most important problems at a global level for agricultural production, food security and sustainability in arid and semi-arid regions, said the UN on occasion of the 2021 World Soil Day.

 

Wastewater

Among the major causes that this international body highlights is that in some arid areas, there has been an increase in the amount of wastewater used to grow crops.

“The problem can be exacerbated by flooding, which can inundate sewage systems or stores of fertiliser, polluting both surface water and groundwater.” Fertiliser run-off can cause algal blooms in lakes.

Meanwhile, the amount of freshwater per capita has fallen by 20% over the last two decades and nearly 60% of irrigated cropland is water-stressed.

The implications of those shortages are far-reaching: irrigated agriculture contributes 40% of total food produced worldwide.

 

Soils are highly living organisms

“Did you know that there are more living organisms in a tablespoon of soil than people on Earth?”

Soil is a world made up of organisms, minerals, and organic components that provide food for humans and animals through plant growth, explains this year’s World Soils Day.

Agricultural systems lose nutrients with each harvest, and if soils are not managed sustainably, fertility is progressively lost, and soils will produce nutrient-deficient plants.

Soil nutrient loss is a major soil degradation process threatening nutrition. It is recognised as being among the most critical problems at a global level for food security and sustainability all around the globe.

 

‘Hidden’ hunger

Over the last 70 years, the level of vitamins and nutrients in food has drastically decreased, and it is estimated that 2 billion people worldwide suffer from a lack of micronutrients, known as hidden hunger because it is difficult to detect.

“Soil degradation induces some soils to be nutrient depleted, losing their capacity to support crops, while others have such a high nutrient concentration that represents a toxic environment to plants and animals, pollutes the environment and causes climate change.”

 

Three Ways to End Gender-based Violence

Testing new approaches for preventing gender-based violence to galvanize more and new partners and resources. Credit: UN Women

By Jacqui Stevenson, Jessica Zimerman and Diego Antoni
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 30 2022 – How are the multiple shocks and crises the world is facing changing how we respond to gender-based violence? Almost three years after the COVID-19 pandemic triggered high levels of violence against women and girls, the recent Sexual Violence Research Initiative Forum 2022 (SVRI) shed some light on the best ways forward.

Bringing together over 1,000 researchers, practitioners, policymakers and activists in Cancún, Mexico, the forum highlighted new research on what works to stop and address one of the most widespread violations of human rights.

While some participants candidly – and bravely – shared that their initiatives did not have the intended impact, many discussed efforts that transformed lives, in big and small ways.

After 5 days of the forum one thing was clear; a lack of evidence is not what is standing in the way of achieving a better future. It is a lack of opportunities and the will to apply that evidence.

Among the many shared findings, UNDP presented its own evidence.

Since 2018, the global project on Ending Gender-based Violence and Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a partnership between UNDP and the Republic of Korea, and in collaboration with United Nations University International Institute for Global Health, has tested new approaches for preventing and addressing gender-based violence, to galvanize more and new partners, resources, and support to move from rhetoric to action.

Three key strategies have emerged.

1. We need to integrate

Gender-based violence (GBV) intersects with all areas of sustainable development. That means that every development initiative provides a chance to address the causes of violence and to transform harmful social norms that not only put women disproportionately at risk for violence, but also limit progress.

Bringing together diverse partners to jointly incorporate efforts to end GBV into “non-GBV” programmes has been central to the Ending GBV and Achieving the SDGs project. Pilots in Indonesia, Peru and the Republic of Moldova integrated a GBV lens into local development planning.

The results were local action plans that focused on needs and solutions identified by the communities themselves, including evidence-based GBV prevention programming such as the Common Elements Treatment Approach, which has been proven to reduce violence along with risk factors such as alcohol abuse. This approach is growing, opening up new and more spaces for this work.

2. We need to elevate

While evidence is crucial to creating change, the work doesn’t stop there. We also need to elevate this evidence to policy makers and to support them in putting the findings into action. In our global project, we went about this in different ways.

In Peru women’s rights advocates and the local government worked together to draft a local action plan to address drivers of violence in the community of Villa El Salvador (VES). By working collaboratively and building trust between key players, the project was able to take a more holistic approach and to create stronger alliances to boost its sustainability and impacts.

In particular, the local action plan was informed by cost analysis research that showed that this approach would pay for itself if it prevented violence for only 0.6 percent of the 80,000-plus women in VES who are at risk for violence every year.

Since the pilot’s launch, more than 15 other local governments have expressed interest in the model, and it has already been replicated in three.

3. We need to finance

Less than 1 percent of bilateral official development assistance (ODA) and philanthropic funding is given to prevent and address GBV, despite the fact that roughly a third of women have experienced physical or sexual violence.

The “Imperative to Invest” study, funded by the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative and presented at the SVRI Forum, shows just what can be achieved with a US$500 million investment. The study highlights that Spotlight’s efforts will have prevented 21 million women and girls from experiencing violence by 2025.

The Ending GBV and Achieving the SDGs project also finds positive results when financing local plans. Through pilot initiatives in Peru, Moldova and Indonesia, it was possible to mobilize funds when different municipal governments take ownership of participatory planning processes at an early stage.

The local level is a key, yet an often overlooked, entry point to identifying community needs and, through participatory, multi-sectoral partnerships, to translate them into funded solutions.

In Moldova the regional government of Gagauzia assigned funds to create the region’s first safe space, with the support of the community.

The SVRI Forum was living proof that a better future is possible. It offered profound moments for thoughtful exchange, learning with partners and peers, and deepened our own reflections on the outcomes and next steps for this global project.

As we approach the final countdown to meeting the SDGs, including SDG5.2 on eliminating violence against women and girls, it has never been more urgent to take all this evidence and turn it into action against gender-based violence. Let’s act today.

Jacqui Stevenson is Research Consultant UNU International Institute for Global Health, Jessica Zimerman is Project Specialist, Gender-based Violence, UNDP, and Diego Antoni is Policy Specialist Gender, Governance and Recovery, UNDP.

Source: UNDP

IPS UN Bureau

 


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Africa’s Processing Industry Holds Promise for Broader Economic Growth

Abou Fumarou Mahamadou poses amid millet stalks dried in the sun. She belongs to a co-op of 32 women farmers in the commune of Tibiri in southwest Niger. Credit: Stephan Gladieu / World Bank

By Chakib Jenane
WASHINGTON DC, Nov 30 2022 – As a central pillar of African diets for thousands of years, millet has a prized position as one of the continent’s most important crops.

And with the onset of climate change, millet offers valuable security to the continent’s smallholder farmers due to the crop’s tolerance for dry soils.

Yet, the rise of an increasingly affluent urban middle class across Africa is threatening to shift diets away from traditional staples like millet in favor of higher-value and more convenient processed foods often sourced from outside the continent.

However, Africa’s homegrown processing industry can increasingly deliver more sophisticated products, turning unprocessed millet into nutritious ready-to-eat meals such as rice-like products, porridges, and more. This is a win-win for farmers and consumers alike.

Africa’s emerging agrifood processing industry clearly offers a major opportunity to capitalize on the growing demand for processed foods which, to date, has been met in large part by imported products.

Growing this sector can provide valuable opportunities for African livelihoods and economies across the region, all the while reducing the continent’s food import bill, which stands at roughly USD 35 billion a year.

Chakib Jenane

The recently released Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS) Annual Trends and Outlook Report (ATOR) shows that Africa’s agrifood processing sector is the essential link in connecting the continent’s smallholder farmers to growing urban markets with changing preferences.

Still, the sector as it exists today is just the tip of the iceberg, and data from across the continent highlights its enormous untapped potential, particularly in terms of the long-cultivated staples.

For instance, the rise of the millet processing sector in Senegal has reversed declining consumption trends due to growing urban populations and their needs for quicker and more convenient staples.

The share of millet has risen to close to 30 percent of the cereal consumption of high-income earners in Senegal, roughly the same as imported rice.

The introduction of more sophisticated millet products has also opened up new market opportunities for smallholder producers, which, alongside rising demand, is boosting the prices they can expect to receive in markets.

This means not only greater economic growth for national economies, but greater spending power and more resilient livelihoods for Africa’s small-scale producers, too.

Another interesting case study is the tomato, the fourth most economically valuable food crop produced in low- and middle-income countries. Fresh tomato is often more accessible to small-scale processors than larger plants, leaving significant potential to develop greater value products.

As a result, the rise of Africa’s processing sector is introducing new opportunities for tomato production by helping to add value and reduce post-harvest losses, stabilizing supplies for consumers throughout the year, while ensuring steady revenue streams for producers.

Meanwhile, some African countries are already seizing on the vast opportunities offered by their processing sectors to deliver a double win for economies and livelihoods.

Roughly 68 percent of Tanzania’s manufacturing exports, for instance, are agri-processed and resource-intensive goods, such as bottled juices, cooking oils, and packaged flours. A large majority of these goods are also being shipped to other African countries, demonstrating how greater agri-food processing capacity on the continent can meet African demand with African processed products.

This not only replaces demand for intercontinental imports, but equally ensures the benefits of processing for producers and consumers remain in Africa to deliver economic growth for future generations.

The growth of Africa’s agrifood processing sector clearly offers sustainable income-generating opportunities for the continent’s smallholder farmers through higher-value products that appeal to changing urban markets.

It also offers many prospects for jobs creation for the continent’s growing youth population – the fastest growing in the world.

With African food tastes and dietary preferences evolving, so too must its agrifood industry if it wishes to stay competitive, successful, and sustainable, delivering growth and improved livelihoods for millions.

Unlocking the potential of the continent’s processing sector, in particular, offers a clear path forward to achieving this goal.

Chakib Jenane joined the World Bank Group in 2014 and is currently Practice Manager for the Agriculture and Food Practice covering West and Central Africa.

IPS UN Bureau

 


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HIV Prevention: New Injection Could Boost the Fight, But Some Hurdles Remain

Now that injectable PrEP is an option, it’s poised to make a huge difference in HIV prevention – as long as some key issues can be overcome

Access to PrEP has been slow and mostly limited to high income countries. Some countries, like Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Nigeria, have been more proactive than others, but it is still hard for many to get PrEP. Credit: Shutterstock

By External Source
Nov 30 2022 – While the world has focused on the COVID pandemic for nearly three years, less and less attention is being paid to HIV. However, HIV is still a global problem. In 2021, according to the United Nations, 38.4 million people were living with HIV, over 650,000 died from AIDS-related illnesses, and 1.5 million became newly infected.

Nearly 70% of infections occur in key groups: sex workers and their clients, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, and transgender people and their sexual partners. Adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa are another important group, with nearly 5,000 getting HIV every week.

For many years, options for HIV prevention were quite limited. Early campaigns consisted of the ABCs – abstinence, being faithful, and condoms. In the early 2000s, male circumcision was added, but multiple attempts at developing a vaccine have been disappointing.

When taken regularly, PrEP is highly effective in preventing HIV infection and very safe. PrEP was seen as a game-changer by enabling people to take charge of their sexual health, particularly for those who could not necessarily control when or how they had sex

In 2012, however, much excitement surrounded the introduction of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. The initial form of PrEP was a combination oral pill consisting of two medications used to treat HIV – emtricitabine and tenofovir. When taken regularly, PrEP is highly effective in preventing HIV infection and very safe. PrEP was seen as a game-changer by enabling people to take charge of their sexual health, particularly for those who could not necessarily control when or how they had sex.

Oral PrEP has worked well for many, particularly for men who have sex with men in high income settings and for serodifferent couples (couples in which one person has HIV and the other does not).

For others – like young people – it’s hard to take a pill consistently during periods of risk for getting HIV. The interest is there, but lots of things get in the way. Some relate to the person, like forgetfulness, transport to a clinic, and alternative priorities. Other factors relate to stigma and lack of support.

PrEP administered via a vaginal ring is another safe option that’s been developed. It’s not yet clear how many people will want to use it as it becomes more widely available.

Access to PrEP has been slow and mostly limited to high income countries. Some countries, like Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Nigeria, have been more proactive than others, but it is still hard for many to get PrEP.

Now that injectable PrEP is an option, it’s poised to make a huge difference in HIV prevention – as long as some key issues can be overcome.

 

Benefits of injectable PrEP

The latest version of PrEP is an injection of another HIV drug – cabotegravir (called CAB-LA for cabotegravir-long acting). It is given in the buttocks and lasts for two months. It is even more effective than oral PrEP and it’s safe.

Another injectable drug – lenacapavir – would only need to be given once every six months, and would be easier to inject because it only needs to go into the skin; but it is still in clinical trials.

In many ways, injectable PrEP seems like a perfect solution. It’s discreet, there’s no burden of frequent pill taking, and it can be combined with other services and injections, like contraception for women. People in the CAB-LA trials in many parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and the US, really liked it. Although some public health officials and healthcare workers have worried about the pain and any swelling due to the injection itself, most people do very well.

 

Drawbacks of injectable PrEP

Several issues, however, may get in the way of injectable PrEP revolutionising HIV prevention.

First, most people can’t get it. The United States was the first country to approve CAB-LA in December 2021. The next was Zimbabwe in October 2022. The necessary paperwork is being processed in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, but regulatory processes are slow and access is likely be to a challenge for some time.

Second, it’s expensive. CAB-LA is priced at over $22,000 per person per year in the US. It could be covered to some extent by health insurance companies, but not everyone has health insurance. The drug manufacturer will lower the price for the markets in low- and middle-income countries, but the exact cost is not yet known. Some estimates are around $250 per person per year. That’s still about five times as much as oral PrEP costs. The increased effectiveness may be worth it for people at high risk of getting HIV, but getting it to those people will be challenging for ministries of health.

Third, logistical issues complicate delivery of injectable PrEP, including the need for refrigerators to store the drug and nurses to give the injections. Clinics may not be set up to provide many injections in a given day, and limited availability may mean people can’t get the shots when they need them.

Finally, continuing to get injections over time is still likely to be a problem. The experience with injectable contraception has taught us that up to half of people who select that form of family planning stop it within a year. Injectable PrEP does not solve the other barriers people face, like transport to clinic and prioritisation of HIV prevention.

The lack of access raises important ethical concerns. Most of the thousands of people in the CAB-LA trials live in countries without access to it, including Botswana, Eswatini, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe among others. Processes to enable access are unacceptably slow, although the drug is available in the US (and just recently Zimbabwe).

 

Where to go from here?

Despite these challenges, injectable PrEP is a huge advantage for the HIV prevention toolbox. Choice is critical for most interventions to work, and HIV prevention is no different. PrEP use increases when people are given effective options and can choose what works best for them.

PrEP needs to be easier for people to take, for instance by making it more convenient and less medical. Programmes are starting to do this through community delivery. That approach may be more challenging with injections, but it may get easier with time and with injections in the skin, like lenacapavir.

Advocacy will be critical for expediting the regulatory process and negotiating with pharmaceutical companies to license other companies to produce more affordable generics.The Conversation

Jessica Haberer, Director of Research, Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Global Health and Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Harvard University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.